Major investment in Rathfern community

Tommy Kirkham of the South and East Antrim Community Federation with Adree Wallace from Community Foundation for Northern Ireland at Rathfern Community Centre. INNT 31-501CON

Tommy Kirkham of the South and East Antrim Community Federation with Adree Wallace from Community Foundation for Northern Ireland at Rathfern Community Centre. INNT 31-501CON

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WORK is scheduled to begin this autumn on a £267,000 refurbishment project at Rathfern Community Centre.

A service level agreement has been signed between Newtownabbey Borough Council and the South and East Antrim Community Federation (SEACF), which will see a new direction for the popular community facility.

“Improvements will be made to both the interior and exterior of the current building on Knockenagh Avenue, with a new reception area to greet visitors and refreshed administration and centre management areas,” SEACF representative Tommy Kirkham explained.

“Lockers and dry changing facilities will be provided for hill walkers taking advantage of the beauty of Carnmoney Hill, which overshadows the centre, while the games room will benefit from a total overhaul, making it a fully fitted audio/visual facility, doubling as a meeting space.

“A new dance studio will be created to encourage all types of dance, drama and arts activities to flourish. Grounds at the rear of the building will also be landscaped and a new raised flower bed garden is currently being established, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.”

A new masterplan for the area is in the initial planning stages and it is hoped support for the process will be received from Newtownabbey Borough Council and Groundwork NI.

“All these improvements are aimed at protecting and enhancing the services of current users in what is a hive of community activity,” Mr Kirkham continued.

“The large, multi-purpose hall at the centre is in constant use, hosting crèches and playgroup sessions, Slimming World classes, indoor bowls, archery and boccia, as well as four-a-side soccer matches and band practices in the evenings.

“Birthday parties and other general community events are also hosted in the busy centre, which has its own kitchen facilities and events and meetings for the SEARCH Project have also been held at the site.

“A local church group has also recently expressed interest in using the centre for a Sunday School.”

Mr Kirkham stressed that healthy living, fitness, healthy eating, the ongoing protection of the local environment and the sustainability of community enterprises will continue to be encouraged on-site at Rathfern.

Discussions are well advanced with partner organisations such as Intercomm Belfast, The Probation Board NI, NIACRO and the local health authorities to cement the new plans, while officers from Newtownabbey Borough Council have kept a mentoring role throughout.

Links have also been forged to encourage centre users from the local Indian, Polish, Roma, Slovakian and Chinese communities and these links will be expanded through the Good Relations Department of the council.

A spokesperson for Newtownabbey Borough Council, which is funding the ambitious improvement scheme, confirmed that the tender for the works is due to be issued shortly.

“The current timetable is for work to start in October 2012 and be completed in March 2013.

“A Service Management Agreement between the council and the group operating the facility will be presented to the council in due course and relevant training will be delivered during the refurbishment period,” she said.